Monday, February 29, 2016

More Letters to Future Counselors

Today we are continuing our series of posts in which we share Letters to Future Counselors written by former counselors during their time in the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Capstone.  You can read our past posts in this series here and here.  We hope you enjoy these letters, and if you'd like to come be a part of this experience, applications to become a counselor this summer are open now!  Find them on PSU's website here.

And now, we present our first letter (please note that letters may be lightly edited for clarity, and names are redacted for privacy reasons.):

Chill out.  Everybody talks about how exhausting and hard it's going to be.  It's gonna be really time-consuming and it will definitely take a lot of energy but it's only two weeks and it's so positive that I don't see how someone can burn out.  You're here because you want to learn, so learn!  Learning means you'll make mistakes, so make mistakes.  Just don't let this idea of "omg it's going to be sooo hard" get you down before it even starts.  It's not like you're working in the E.R., you're helping take care of people so they can enjoy camp for a week.  Let yourself enjoy it like they do.  Do the dances, sing the songs, wear silly costumes, whatever.  This is the only place where you won't be judged for silliness or personality quirks.  As long as you're doing your job and treating everyone with compassion and kindness, go nuts!  You're gonna do amazing out there!


And now, our second letter:

My experience here has been like a roller coaster.  Every night my group discussed our highs and lows for the day, and it was amazing to me how I could think of a low in the moment during an activity and by the time of the meeting, completely forget about it because of all of my highs.  Each activity is the best activity ever until the next one comes along to trump it.  The amount of care that goes into this camp, the love and support felt by the campers and counselors, and the progress witnessed here should not be taken for granted.  Kiwanis Camp is a pretty remarkable place full of special people who not only work here, but vacation here too.  I'm so happy I was fortunate enough to have been a part of it, and I will reflect on my experiences socially and professionally in the years to come.


We hope you enjoyed these letters.  Once again, if you'd like to join us this summer, apply to be a counselor here.  We hope to see you at camp!

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Handisco smart cane: The "white cane" gets an update

For decades, people who are blind or have visual impairments have used the "white cane" to help them navigate the world.  A long and lightweight tool, it is swept back in forth in front of an individual's feet to help them detect any obstacles on the path ahead.  Now, a group of graduate engineering students are hoping to increase the cane's capabilities with some high-tech modifications.

The students have created a box that fits on a traditional white cane, but instead of using the customary tactile method of locating obstacles, the box uses infrared and ultrasonic wave sensors to detect objects.  If a user is near an obstacle, the device will vibrate the cane to let them know.  It's the same kind of principal used in cars to alert a driver that something is near the back bumper.  With this technology, users can gain awareness of a wider area of space around them than simply sweeping the cane back and forth would provide.

And the capabilities of the cane attachment don't stop there.  It also has GPS integration, and can convey verbal information like directions to a user via a bluetooth headset.  In the future, it may be able to provide even more in-depth guidance as well.  Though the practice is not widespread yet, certain cities have started to implement types of "tagging systems," which make real-time data from a city available in an open system.  The cane attachment can collect that data and relay it to the user, including details such as whether a nearby traffic light is red or green, and what a cross-walk signal reads.  Shops can install their own customized tagging systems (or "beacons") too, broadcasting information such as what the shop sells, what its hours are, and where the entrance is located.  The students are testing their cane attachment using data from the city of Nancy, France.

The idea for the updated white cane came to students at the University of Lorraine in Nancy, France, after they were informed of a challenge called Le Défi Cisco.  The challenge asked students to apply technology to social and environmental issues—and offered a €70,000 prize for the winners.  A student named Lucie d’Alguerre thought that her uncle, who is blind, could be helped by a device that gave the traditional white cane more capabilities.  Lucie began building partner relationships with the city of Nancy and with an association for the blind called Valentin Haüy, and a professor helped her team up with four other students who helped make the idea into a reality.  Jonathan Donnard managed the team's communications with Cisco (the challenge's sponsor), Nicolas Frizzarin handled the business plan and financial issues, and Florian Esteves and Mathieu Chevalier became the technology's developers.

These students made up a team they called Handisco, and they were one of only six teams out of thirty to advance to the challenge's final round of judging.  In the final round, they won the top honor.

With the prize money they officially founded the Handisco company, and began pitching it to investors.  In June 2014, they received a National Prize for Innovation called the Pepite Award from the French Ministry of Education, and met with French president François Hollande.

Handisco is still working with the city of Nancy to pursue more funding, and they're working with blind people to get feedback and improve the device.  They are also exploring possibilities like connecting vibrating shoes to the cane in order to help provide additional feedback to users.

You can learn more about Handisco and their updated white cane on Handisco's website, from PBS, from the Huffington Post, and from Cisco.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Shakespeare in Sign Language

The play is a classic: William Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost.  But the way that UK-based company Deafinitely Theatre performed it in 2012 was an innovation.  This is the first full-length Shakespeare play to be translated and performed entirely in British Sign Language, or BSL.

And it wasn't performed on a small stage, either.  This BSL adaptation was performed at the famous Globe Theatre in London, as part of a program called Globe to Globe [PDF] in which thirty-seven plays were performed at the theater in thirty-seven different languages.

The play was performed by an all-deaf cast—a first for the Globe Theatre, according to director Paula Garfield.  The majority of the audience at the Globe performance were deaf as well.  Although music was played on stage throughout the show, the play was otherwise completely silent, with not a word spoken by any of the actors.

Translating the play from Shakespearian English to modern British was not an easy task.  The play is a comedy, a genre often especially hard to translate into other languages, and Love's Labour's Lost contains complex wordplay, Latin, and puns.  Deafinitely Theatre opted to translate the script first into modern English and then into BSL, preserving the meaning of the scenes rather than getting bogged down in attempting an exact translation.  Director Paula Garfield notes that it was particularly challenging for her, as she was not an expert on Shakespeare, but assistant director Andrew Muir and creative interpreter Kate Furby helped with translation.

An image of the English alphabet, with line drawings of hands above each letter.  The hands show the motions needed to form the British Sign Language alphabet.  Mostly black-and-white, the vowels are bright blue in both languages.
The British Sign Language alphabet. 
Image courtesy Cowplopmorris at en.wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons.

Furby says that the team had to explain the metaphors in the play as well, and uses the word "bound" as an example.  This word can have two meanings, she says, one literal and one metaphorical with more psychological connotations.  For cases like this, the team had to create a sign to show both meanings.

Director Paula Garfield estimates that just the process of going over the script took three to four months.  The next part was teaching the actors how to perform all of these translated signs, and a period of intensive rehearsals followed.  The production would be performed twice during the program at the Globe.

Although no recordings of Deafinitely Theatre's performances at the Globe were allowed, the interpretation received positive reviews.  Some glimpses of rehearsals can be seen in this video on the making of the production, from BSL Zone.

Actor Stephen Collins, who played the role of Ferdinand in the play, believes that their performance had a major impact in the field of deaf theater because it was at the renowned Globe Theatre.  Creative interpreter Kate Furby hopes that, in the future, more deaf people will be able to enjoy performances of Shakespeare's work.  Shakespeare is an important part of Britain's heritage, she says, and deaf people should be able to access it. 

You can learn more about Deafinitely Theatre on their website, in The Independent, in The Guardian, in Disability Arts Online, and from BSL Zone.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Letters to Future Counselors

One of the assignments counselors receive in the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp capstone is to write a letter to future counselors with advice and insights about the camp experience.  Last summer, we shared a few of these letters in a blog post (you can read that post here).  Today, we are sharing three more inspiring letters to help anyone considering the capstone get a better feel for life at camp.  (Letters may be lightly edited for clarity, and names are redacted for privacy reasons.)  Applications to become a counselor are now available!  Find them on Portland State University's Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp capstone website.

Enjoy, and we hope to see you at camp!


Not an experience to miss.  Don't overthink the decision to do it.  Yes, the days are long and hard, but the friendship, bonds, and teamwork are so worth it.  The bond with your camper is beyond wonderful.  You gain a trust and rapport like no other.


It's normal to be nervous (even terrified!)  Once that first camper arrives though, there is a surge of energy and excitement that is inexplicable.  It is going to be challenging for sure but easily one of the most rewarding two weeks of my life.  These campers are incredible and if you open up your eyes and your mind they will teach you some incredible things you will never forget.


Don't be afraid.  This may seem foreign & strange to be working with different people with altered abilities, who may or may not be able to verbally communicate with you, but by the end of the 2 weeks, this work will be second nature for you.

You will come to enjoy your time spent with the campers & fear losing them at the end of the camp far more than you feared meeting them in the first place.

If you are afraid, don't let that fear keep you from coming to Kiwanis Camp.  The experience is irreplaceable & you will be a changed person by the end of it.

There will be hard, frustrating & sad times at camp, but these are the experiences that will enable you to grow.  Plus, there are more than enough happy, empowering & inspiring moments that will change your perspective on people with disabilities & on life in general.

You will start seeing people not for what they cannot do…but what they can.



We hope you enjoyed these Letters to Future Counselors.  If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact us in the comments here or on Facebook.  You can apply to be a counselor here on PSU's Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp capstone website.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Conversations with Counselors

A photo of people canoeing on a lake.  In the forefront of the picture is the water, and it is a deep, rich blue.  Farther back there is a line of thick green woods, and beyond that Mt. Hood rises into a nearly cloudless blue sky.  A few small, fluffy white clouds hang low in the sky.
Photo Credit: Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp

Last summer, we went on site to ask some counselors why they had chosen to take the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Capstone.  We got a lot of different answers!  Students with diverse majors and interests choose the MHKC Capstone, and a wide variety of personalities thrive here.

Catarina was the first counselor we spoke with.  She heard about the capstone through word of mouth.  "A lot of people were saying that it's the best thing, and it's the most, like, beautiful experience you could get, and it's really life-changing," she tells us.  "And so far it's been very life-changing for me."

Chad, another counselor, also heard about the capstone through word of mouth, though in this case it was from a little closer to home.  "My older brother took the capstone ten years ago, and he recommended it," Chad tells us.  "We both are not involved with special education or education in general.  He's computer systems security, and I'm going into the medical field, but we both felt that it was the best use of our time to give back to the community."

People in the MHKC Capstone come from a variety of backgrounds, from those with no prior experience dealing with people who have different abilities to those who have helped care for friends or family members for years.  Some want to make special education their lifelong vocation; others, like Chad, just want to spend a part of their summer giving back to the community.

And the course can be used for more than just PSU's senior capstone graduation requirement.  Grace, a Child and Family Studies major, is using it as a practicum for her major.  "I was really interested in this because I hadn't had much experience with different abilities," she tells us.  "I was nervous about coming, but it's been a really, really great experience, and I've learned a lot."

When asked if they were glad they'd made the decision to come to camp, these counselors gave us responses that were universally positive.

"I'm very glad I came," Catarina says.  "I'm just overjoyed."

"Yes, definitely I'm very glad.  And it's flown by!"  Grace says, smiling.  "It's been, like, a long two weeks, but it's gone by really quick.  I can't believe it's almost over."

Learn more about the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Capstone on Portland State University's website here, and feel free to ask us any questions in the comments here or on Facebook.

Special thanks to counselors Catarina, Chad, and Grace, and to faculty member Carolyn Bradley, who gave us a tour of the camp last summer.